There are people who do not (and will not) enjoy anything (no matter what). There are those who build religions around suffering (till it hurts). There are those for whom personal pleasure is the only thing that matters (come hell or high water), but most of us do our best to enjoy without hurting.
Sounds hedonistic (and it is), but hedonism is not evil. It’s just people with big-selves go selfish. It’s hard to be good when goodness is relative to you. People say, “Carpe diem! Carpe diem!” The pressure’s on! “Get me a bucket!”
But when you seize the day, it’s hard to hang on.
And Science says, “Brains send chemical neurotransmitters to tell you your mood” (Neurogistics).
Serotonin is “neurotransmitter of pleasure and enjoyment” (Restorative Health). To get serotonin go for a walk (University Health News). Dopamine is “in the pleasure system of the brain, providing feelings of enjoyment” (Psychologist World). To get dopamine eat right, sleep well and move that body – Click here! (wikiHow).
Mungo Jerry says In the Summertime, “We’re no threat, people. We’re not dirty, we’re not mean. We love everybody but we do as we please. When the weather’s fine, we go fishin’ or go swimmin’ in the sea. We’re always happy. Life’s for livin’ yeah, that’s our philosophy.”
Peacher says, “Hedonism is narcissism. A hedonist is one who lives a self-dominated and self-focused life. A hedonist is committed to satisfy, by all means, the lusts, urges, and appetites of his sinful nature” (Hedonism: A Heart Problem).
But the original Greek meaning of hedonist is, “pleasure, delight, enjoyment” (Etymology Dictionary); not narcissism or extreme shelfishness. Its meaning is lost in translation.
The trouble isn’t with “pleasure, delight or enjoyment,” it’s with humans. No matter how incredible an experience, we return to how happy we normally feel. It’s the hedonic treadmill. Keep pleasures coming to stay in the same place.
“Expectations and desires rise in tandem” (Wikipedia).
Gangster Nucky Thompson from Boardwalk Empire looks back on his life and explains, “The first time I got a nickel tip, I thought the world is great. . . . But a dime would be better. Then I wanted a quarter.”
That’s the treadmill.
Hedonism holds that things are good as long as they are pleasant, and bad as long as they are painful. From the moment of birth, the good for each individual is that person’s pleasure. If you look back on your life and deem it a good one, then you yourself will have enjoyed it. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t pooh, pigs and wind.
Philosopher Robert Nozick (1938-2002) posed a thought experiment. Imagine scientists have a machine – picture the Matrix (1999) explained and virtual reality – that simulates real life while guaranteeing only pleasurable experiences, never pain. The catch is, you have to leave reality behind.
Nozick asks, “If you were given the choice to sign up for that kind of existence, would you?”
We may not get what we enjoy. We may sacrifice freedom to look after babies. Do jobs we don’t like. Go to parties and funerals no matter what we’d rather be doing.
Epicureans (hedonists!) emphasized moderation over mindless hedonism. Extravagant pleasures make us their slaves. Happiness takes courage, moderation, and other virtues (IEP).
Bill Murray said, “The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself” (Bill Murray’s Advice). In the last analysis what makes life worth living is your enjoyment of it.
Joey from “Friends” (1994-2004) nailed it. “Look,” he said, “there’s no unselfish good deed… That’s because all people are selfish… selfless good deeds don’t exist!” (see video clip).
That’s psychological egoism. It says we’re always motivated by self-interest (IEP). The question is: Who is this self that is so self-interested?
The obvious answer is: I’m so-and-so; I like such-and-such; I hate this-and-that. But could this be a limited self-interested ego perspective?
When someone says, “My temper got the better of me. I didn’t mean it,” or “My lust got the better of me. I couldn’t help it,” who is doing that? who is that I? (What do you think?)
Is it: A) What you do for enjoyment and/or employment? or *B) Who you think you are when you’re aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it? *Note: If you picked B), you’re probably in a process of spiritual self transformation.
In “The Enormous Womb” (1941) Henry Miller wrote, “As far as I can make out, there is never anything but womb. First and last there is the womb of Nature; then there is the mother’s womb; and finally there is the womb in which we have our life and being and which we call the world. It is the failure to recognize the world as womb which is the cause of our misery” (p. 94).
Henry isn’t trying to be creepy. He’s pointing out how we think the unborn are in bliss and the dead escape ills. He’s saying that there are people alive and moving who live in bliss. They’re less unconscious. They’re different because of their attitude towards the world. They accept the world as womb, not tomb. They don’t regret what’s past or fear what’s coming. They live in an intense state of awareness without fear (and so can you).
Now… go. Go beyond happiness.